The gratitude letter is one of the ways I celebrate Thanksgiving each year. This year, I wrote a thank you letter to a former professor of mine who made a huge impact on my life. I really put my heart into the letter and sent it off with a prayer that it would reach my former professor at just the time he most needed encouragement.
I heard back from him within an hour. His email thrilled me as he shared how my letter had impacted him and even made him cry. That's just what I was hoping for - to be a blessing.
I'd like to challenge you to consider writing a letter of your own. When someone has made a difference in you life, don't you think really thanking them is is worth the effort? Maybe reading mine will inspire you.
Dear Dr. __________,
I have been meaning to write to you for years. As Thanksgiving draws near, it is my annual tradition to write to someone who has blessed and impacted my life. This year, that's you.
Out of all the many, many students you have taught, I really doubt that you remember me. I, however, remember you very well. I attended _______ from 1988 to 1993 and I was in your classes for a few of those years. I wasn't married then, so my name was Relyn Chrisner. You did something way back then for which I owe quite a large debt. You changed my life. I know, I know. Nearly every person we meet impacts us in some way. But, you made a measurable, incredible difference and it's about time I thanked you for it.
It was some time in1991 when you called me to your office and told me off. I mean it. You made the term brutally honest come to life. You were not easy on me. Not a bit. You yelled at me for being distracted, acting like a slacker, and for wasting my brains. You waved my transcript in my face and fussed at me for the incredible drop in grades from my freshman year to then. You had even gone to the trouble to look up my SAT scores and you told me off for not applying myself in either high school or college. You asked, "Why the h#$& don't you have a scholarship with a mind like that?" You were as truthful with me as anyone in my life - before or since.
Basically, you made me furious. I left your office as angry as I had ever been.
Something you said stayed with me. It played in my head on constant repeat. I remember just praying to get your voice out of my head. You said, "If you don't do something now, right NOW, you are going to be mediocre for the rest of your life! If you don't begin to change your habits and your ways of thinking, you, Relyn, will never be anything more than average! What a waste that would be!"
I thought and thought about what you said. It took days for my shock, my indignation, my fury to subside. How dare he talk to me that way? How dare he say those terrible things? I am NOT mediocre! It took weeks for a small voice to begin answering back. Maybe he did it because he cares. Maybe he did it because you needed to hear it. If you aren't average, how do you explain your grades? If you aren't lazy, why the disinterest? It took months for me to make my momentous decision. I am finished with mediocrity. From now on, I will be excellent. I will work hard. I will achieve. I will not allow myself to settle for second best. I will refuse to be lazy. I WILL NOT give up. I will never again settle for mediocrity. Right now, I choose to live an excellent life. Right now, I choose to change and to grow and to strive always to be excellent.
What I really wanted to say, is thank you. Those two words are not enough, never enough. The time you took, the concern that prompted our talk completely changed my life. It's your voice I still hear in my head when I start to take the easy road. It's your words I still recall when I try and try and want to give up because mastery is so darn difficult, never mind excellence. It's my SAT scores rushing past my face that I envision when I feel dumb and foolish and exhausted.
It's you I think of when I stand in front of my students each day. It's you who made me the teacher I am.
If you could see me with my students, I think you would be proud. They don't know how much they owe to you. But, I do. I can never repay what you did for me. Each day, though, I try to pay it forward. Thank you.